Last week’s announcement that the Federal Government will move to give childless same-sex and heterosexual de facto couples access to the Family Court marks the first time Rudd Labor has stepped out of line with the Australian Christian Lobby when it comes to gay rights.

ACL chief Jim Wallace is not happy, rolling out the usual claptrap about equal treatment of same-sex couples undermining the traditional model of family, though strangely this time he’s been more open on the issue of gay and lesbian couples with children.

And after the disgraceful betrayal of an election promise not to veto the ACT’s civil unions no matter what, it’s about time the Government did something to soothe the wounds of Labor’s gay constituency.

Importantly, access to the Family Court will necessitate granting gay and lesbian couples de facto status federally and, along with the other laws Labor has pledged to amend, this means that by the end of 2009, everything short of formal relationship recognition at a Federal level will have been settled.

This is great for two reasons: for one it will put pressure back on the states in the equality stakes, and secondly it leaves plenty of time before the next federal election to debate what form that recognition should take, with Rudd Labor likely to make that its big promise to the gay community for the 2011 election campaign.

At the very least, assuming all states and territories have implemented state-based registries by then, it would mean federal recognition of existing registered relationships, or possibly a similar scheme federally.

Much more satisfying would be some variety of civil union though, considering the strife over Canberra’s recent efforts, it might come with another name -“ civil pact, civil partnership, registered union. As recently as December last year, former leader Simon Crean was prepared to suppose that there will be at some time civil unions in Australia, and much of the Labor Left would agree.

Marriage, however, will remain off the table for as long as Kevin Rudd leads Labor unless the electorate forces the Government into some sort of coalition with the Greens.

Heaven forbid it, but the only other option would be to wait for Rudd’s retirement or, worse still, the return of a Liberal Government, its defeat, and Labor’s return again.

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